Anthony Shim’s Riceboy Sleeps is a very sweet and melodramatic movie. It’ll certainly have some Asian youths thinking about their relationship with their parents. That’s because this filmmaker drew heavily upon his own experiences to tell a compelling tale about life, hardship and how to live. It also reflects upon what some immigrants must have faced in the 80s when trying to raise children in a world that’s still relatively foreign to them.
When So-young (Seung-yoon Choi) wants to make a fresh start in Vancouver, BC with her son Dong-Hyun (played by child-actor Dohyun Noel Hwang and teen Ethan Hwang) who’s ready to rebel, trying to connect is tough. He has his problems and she has hers. It’s less about the communication barriers, but more to do with not having a father figure around.
It’s tough to understand mom and to really care for her means just taking the time to listen rather than to brush the advice off. The story will tug at the heartstrings because of the drama she goes through, but as for the lad, he even has greater problems at school. This teenager gets into trouble a lot, and he can’t stay safe for long. However, the mother is not without her emotional struggle too.
Dong-Hyun earned the title of being a Riceboy because of being picked on. And because the life he leads is like that of a somnambulist, I don’t think he’s fully aware of the troubles that lay ahead. This tale shows he needs guidance, but sadly, he doesn’t know who to reach out to for help. Even So-young is worried about his well being. Choi’s performance is deep and I’m sure she’s drawing from her own experiences as a mother.
And to have an arthouse style film shot in 16 mm is a rare treat. This air of authenticity for a period piece only helps add to the pathos. Even the soundtrack delivers a melancholy that’s persuasive. Andrew Yong Hoon Lee‘s piano ballads evoke quite the emotional response, especially when juxtaposed to the moments when the two go home to Korea to meet the grandparents. What we discover is that both had issues with their parents. If they want to have happier lives, they need to deal with their demons.
4 Stars out of 5